A conversation with President Bush

President George W. Bush:

You know, I think if you asked — I did ask General Petraeus. He said there’s some good news and bad news. The good news is that sectarian death is down in Baghdad. And remember, the mission of the surge or reinforcing is to — is to bring that sectarian violence in the capital city down so that this government can reconcile. The bad news is that spectacular car bombs still go off, in a way that tends to shake the confidence of the Iraqi people that their government can protect them.

Charlie Rose:

Nine Marines killed yesterday. (Editor’s note: This was later corrected to nine soldiers, not Marines.)

President George W. Bush:

And that as well, of course, you know, our heart goes out to those nine Marines. That was a suicide bomber, evidently, that did that. Yeah, I mean, it’s — it’s — this is a dangerous part of the world. It is — it is a, in my judgment, a necessary mission to help this government become stable enough to defend itself, and serve as an ally against extremists and radicals who would do us harm. General Petraeus would tell you that it’s too early to judge because he only has got about 50 percent of the troops that he asked for in theatre. Now as he said, I said we’re going to commit 21,000 troops, additional troops, and about 50 percent of those have actually shown up in Baghdad. The Iraqis are fully staffed, and they’ve got their team in there. But we don’t. And so what General Petraeus says, some early signs, still dangerous, but give me a — give my chance a plan to work.

Charlie Rose:

When will he know, do you think? Will he know by the end of the summer, four months from now, that the trending is going the right way?

President George W. Bush:

I think that’s an accurate way to — it’s an accurate timeframe for him. I think he would tell you that in September, he might have a pretty good feel for whether or not it made sense or not. I do think it’s important for me to explain to your listeners one more time, if I might, why I made the decision I made. I believe that if Iraq were to fall apart, and there were to be a vacuum, into that vacuum would come extremist elements. These are the same extremist elements that are now trying to derail this young democracy, and that then could lead to a regional conflagration, and then you’d have radical Sunnis and radical Shias competing for dominance, and they would share a common enemy, whether it be the United States or Israel, for example. Or moderate government. And it’s — and so I had a decision to make as to whether or not to kind of allow this sectarian violence to continue and hope it didn’t create chaos, or do something about it so that the government would have a chance to succeed. In other words, if the capital city was aflame, the capital city had mass murders going on and extreme violence, and there was no way that Iraq government could defend and sustain itself and serve as an ally on the war on terror. So in consultation with people like General Petraeus, I made the decision to go in. Now, the fundamental question is, will it work? Will it provide enough breathing space so that a government that we expect to reconcile different factions can do so? And that’s the other track of this strategy that must work, which is the political track along with the security track. The verdict is still out on that.

Charlie Rose:

It’s pretty clear sectarian violence is almost a civil war there, in your judgment?

President George W. Bush:

I asked David Petraeus that. He said no.

Charlie Rose:

It’s not a civil war.

President George W. Bush:

He doesn’t think so. He thinks it’s extremists trying to foment a civil war, but no, he doesn’t believe that. As a matter of fact, remember, 12 million people said we want a new constitution, we want a government under that constitution, and by far, the vast majority of people in Iraq want to live in peace. And the fundamental question is can that government provide it? Can they provide security? Our mission before was training so we could get out of the way, and the sectarian violence began to spiral out of control because frankly, al-Qaeda bombed this Samara mosque, and there wasn’t enough push back to radical elements inside the capital, and they began to foment, and I had this decision to make.

Charlie Rose:

Shia militias got crazed by that?

President George W. Bush:

Well, more importantly, the people counted on Shia militias to provide security for them because of this Sunni extremists and the bombing, and yeah, exactly.

Charlie Rose:

There are some who argue that, in fact, people, even if there is a lessening of the violence, they’re just going to wait you out.

President George W. Bush:

Could be, yeah. My argument is that we have got to be in a position to give this — give the will of the people a chance to succeed, and, you know, it’s really the challenge for all of us who believe that democracy is possible in Iraq, and that the people want to live in a Iraqi-style democracy that enables people to realize dreams, and factions to be able to reconcile in a peaceful way. I happen to think it’s necessary for the long-term peace of the United States that this happens, because my fear is that these extremists will use opportunity in Iraq to either plan new attacks on the United States or foment violence in the Middle East and overthrow regimes that may have hydrocarbons that they could use for economic blackmail. I’m deeply concerned about the Iranian influence in the Middle East, and I know that a vacuum inside of Iraq would embolden those who have expressed their desire to destroy allies of ours.

Charlie Rose:

For this to work, you’ve got a lot riding on the Maliki government.

President George W. Bush:

Yeah.

Charlie Rose:

What indication do you have that they will deliver?

President George W. Bush:

Well, one, I’m in constant contact with the Prime Minister, and he understands that we expect him to deliver on what they call benchmarks, but more importantly, the Iraqi people expect him to deliver on benchmarks, which is an oil sharing law, provincial elections. The reason those are important is that the first round or the first couple rounds of elections, Sunnis in certain provinces sat out and weren’t involved in the elections, and therefore, are not involved in their local governments. We believe that he ought to reexamine the deBaathification law that will enable certain professionals that were, you know, Baath party members, to reenter society in a way. In other words, there are certain things he has to do. He has met some benchmarks. In other words, there is some progress.

Charlie Rose:

Is he doing everything that you expected him to do when you announced the new strategy and the new general in your January speech?

President George W. Bush:

In terms of the security operations, yes. He committed more troops, and they’ve arrived. He said he was going to organize the city in a certain way and he’s done so. He’s named a general, Aboud, who’s in charge of the Baghdad security plan. So he’s meeting expectations as far as I’m concerned. And I think as far as our military folks are concerned. As far as the security. Now, is he moving — by the way, he did pass a budget in which they’re going to spend $10 billion of Iraqi money to help provinces rebuild, and help local people realize the benefits of having a central government with some money. They got to make sure that money actually makes it out into the hands of the local governments. But he’s still got a lot of work to do. I’m watching him very carefully. And when I talk to him, I must say that he’s — he’s learning how to be a leader.

Charlie Rose:

He just lost the support in his government of Muqtada al-Sadr. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

President George W. Bush:

I think that the thing that I view in terms of Prime Minister Maliki is, is he willing to deal with the extremist elements in his society, whether they be Shia or Sunni. In other words, I don’t see how you can have a stable government that meets the needs of the people unless that government is willing to deal with the murderers, regardless of their religion, and so what I look to the Prime Minister is, is he willing to work with his own forces, as well as our forces, to bring people to justice who murder people? That’s what the Iraqis want. And so Sadr’s group — and it’s a lot more complicated than just a guy. In other words, Jaish al-Mahdi has got some extremists elements, and there are some moderate elements in Jaish al- Mahdi. Prime Minister reaches out to the moderate elements, and he thus far has shown a willingness, which he didn’t prior to our new strategy, to go after some of the extremist Shia elements.

Charlie Rose:

He seems always to be willing to — when he doesn’t like something, to tell you, as he did about the wall that they were building.

President George W. Bush:

Yeah.

Charlie Rose:

And the military said, well, we’ll stop.

President George W. Bush:

Yeah.

Charlie Rose:

If it offends you, we’ll stop.

President George W. Bush:

It doesn’t offend me at all.

Charlie Rose:

No, no. If it offends us. You said okay, we’ll stop building.

President George W. Bush:

Yeah. This is the interesting dilemma. For some I think here in the states. This is a guy who has been elected by the people, and it’s a sovereign nation, and we’re there at their request, through the matters if they said get out now, we’re tired of coalition presence, US’s presence is counterproductive, we would leave.

Charlie Rose:

If he said get out now, we don’t want you any more –

President George W. Bush:

I don’t see how we could stay. It is a — it’s his country.

Charlie Rose:

But if he said that, it would lead to the catastrophe that you have suggested –

President George W. Bush:

That’s why he’s not going to say it.

Charlie Rose:

You don’t think he’ll say that?

President George W. Bush:

I don’t. No, I don’t. He does want — he does want to show his people that he’s — here’s an interesting tension. He wants to show his people that he’s plenty capable of providing security with the Iraqi forces, and to a certain extent he is, but they still need more work on their command and control structure. They still need more work to be able to get their mechanized units from point A to point B. In other words, this is a new army that we’re building, that we’re helping them build, and so there’s a — I like his spirit. His spirit is, I want to take charge and show the Iraqi people I will provide security.

Charlie Rose:

Is he willing to reach out to the Sunnis?

President George W. Bush:

Yeah.

Charlie Rose:

Twenty percent of the population and give them a share that’s acceptable to them, because before Saddam was toppled they had power.

President George W. Bush:

Yeah, that’s right.

Charlie Rose:

That they will not have again.

President George W. Bush:

Yes, I think he is. He is deeply concerned about al-Qaeda influence, and I believe that most of these spectacular bombings we are seeing are, you know, have the hallmark of al-Qaeda. They understand that a free Iraq, you know, is not in their interest.

Charlie Rose:

More that than the sectarian violence?

President George W. Bush:

On al-Qaeda?

Charlie Rose:

Yeah.

President George W. Bush:

Yeah.

Charlie Rose:

I mean, more of the violence in Baghdad today is sectarian, Sunni versus Shia, than it is — good hands, huh.

President George W. Bush:

You say that.

Charlie Rose:

I’m sorry. More of the violence today is sectarian or is it from al-Qaeda?

President George W. Bush:

Well, first of all, there’s both — there’s two types of basic violence. One is the sectarian violence, which is on the decline, fairly dramatically inside Baghdad. The second is the car bombings, suicide bombings. We believe most of those are al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda bombings. These are Sunni extremists. Some of whom are foreign, some of whom have been recruited by al-Qaeda inside of Iraq, all aiming to create enough, kind of confusion and doubt that the government can provide security so as to derail this experience — experiment of democracy in the Middle East. You know, al-Qaeda made it very clear, their objectives, and their objective is to topple modern government, spread an ideology — these are ideologues.

Charlie Rose:

And it is said that they like a civil war.

President George W. Bush:

Oh absolutely, they like chaos and anarchy, and out of that anarchy and chaos they can find safe haven. And the fundamental question is: what would they use it for? I happen to believe that one of the lessons of September the 11th is that if these extremists prosper and become emboldened and find safe haven, they will attack us again. That’s what I believe. And –

Charlie Rose:

Because extremists fester in a failed state.

President George W. Bush:

Absolutely right.

Charlie Rose:

Which Afghanistan was.

President George W. Bush:

Was, right.

Charlie Rose:

And some fear that if they make this point about where we are today, that Iraq was not a failed state before the invasion. After the invasion and the aftermath, it is tottering on becoming a failed state.

President George W. Bush:

You know, I mean, it’s easy for people to say, who live in the comfort of the United States, to say that Iraq wasn’t a failed state, it was a tyranny.

Charlie Rose:

Right.

President George W. Bush:

That managed — the leader of which managed to kill thousands and thousands of people.

Charlie Rose:

But as you know, it wasn’t a place where — it wasn’t where al-Qaeda had a large, true presence.

President George W. Bush:

No, it wasn’t, but it was also a, a state sponsor of terror. It had a leader that was paying Palestinian suicide families money after their child had blown up innocent people.

Charlie Rose:

$25,000.

President George W. Bush:

Yeah. It is a place where the leader was a sworn enemy of the United States. It is — I’m absolutely convinced the decision I made to remove Saddam was the right decision, and now the question is, will we help this young democracy survive? The interesting thing that’s happened is that — first of all, you know, Maliki hadn’t been in office but for like ten months.

Charlie Rose:

Right.

President George W. Bush:

It’s a new experience for him, and I’m not making excuses for him because we are pushing hard on getting him to do the measures necessary for reconciliation to take place. Reaching out to Sunnis, for example, which I believe he will do. I don’t think he’s going to reach out to extremists, but he’ll reach out to those who want to work within the context of a unified Iraq.

Charlie Rose:

That’s an important point. Do you think the Sunnis are going to be responsive to this? Will they be willing to make that leap?

President George W. Bush:

I think there are a lot who are willing to make the leap. There is no question a lot of suspicion, and by the way, Saddam Hussein harbored that type of suspicion. He was — a part of his way he managed society was to create deep suspicions and to play people off against each other. Secondly, obviously there has been a historical and traditional suspicion, but prior to — prior to the recent sectarian violence, there was a lot of mixed neighborhoods, Sunni, Shia neighborhoods.

Charlie Rose:

Absolutely.

President George W. Bush:

And I think that can happen again.

Charlie Rose:

Do you really?

President George W. Bush:

And so does Maliki. I do.

Charlie Rose:

You can put that thing back in the bottle, that sectarian stability?

President George W. Bush:

It’s not going to happen overnight. The interesting thing is, is that Petraeus said something interesting the other day, that, you know, there’s the Iraqi clock and US clock.

Charlie Rose:

Exactly, that’s right.

President George W. Bush:

And on our clock, it’s just — people are tired of Iraq, and I know that.

Charlie Rose:

The American people.

President George W. Bush:

Absolutely, they are.

Charlie Rose:

As well as the Iraqi people, too.

President George W. Bush:

Well, I’m sure they are, but they also want to make — they also don’t want to abandon their future to a bunch of extremists and radicals.

Charlie Rose:

I want to get to the Washington clock in a few minutes, and tell about what’s going on in the Congress, but let me just stay with — there is also negotiations taking place next week. Your Secretary of State will meet in Egypt with representatives from Arab states. She had asked the Iranian Foreign Minister to come.

President George W. Bush:

Sure.

Charlie Rose:

Now, you got some criticism at the time of the Baker-Hamilton Report, because they urged you to talk to Iran, urged you to talk to Syria. It looks like it is happening, if the Iranian Foreign Minister decides to come.

President George W. Bush:

Well, first of all there was a conference prior to these, in which there were representatives from the United States and Iran and Syria. And secondly, there are — I’m more than happy to send our representatives to a regional conference, all aiming at helping the Iraq government gain credibility in the international community. What I’m not willing to do is sit down bilaterally with the Iranians.

Charlie Rose:

But my impression is that the Foreign Minister of Iran and the Secretary of State from the United States may very well have bilateral conversations at the conference.

President George W. Bush:

They could, they could. And the message, of course, is going to be, you know, « Don’t send weapons in that will end up hurting our troops, and help this young democracy survive. » That’s the message of Condi to the Iranians. I’d like, if I could address this issue real quick — if I thought sitting down with the Iranians would — in a bilateral context — would end up causing them not to have a nuclear weapon, which is a priority of mine, and should be a priority of the free world, then I would seriously consider that. I don’t believe a discussion with Iran alone, and at this moment in time, would yield the result we want. Our strategy — let me tell you our strategy real quick. Our strategy is to work with an interesting group of nations — the EU, China, and Russia, to send a focused and concerted message to the Iranians that, « You have a choice to make. You can either isolate yourself, or you can join the community of nations, and give up your ambitions — enrichment ambitions, that we believe will yield a weapon. » And I think it’s important for — I feel confident that a more effective message to the Iranians is one that is — in which the United States is a part of a chorus, as opposed to singing solo.

Charlie Rose:

Is there a lesson from North Korea?

President George W. Bush:

Right — the lesson from North Korea was — is that we were in a bilateral negotiating position with North Korea, and found ourselves ineffective in that position. In other words, the North Koreans could ignore their previous agreements, and it then became incumbent upon the United States to do something about that. It makes it much easier to be consequential and to hold people to their agreements if there’s more than one nation saying to the — in this case the North Korean leader — « We will withhold aid. »

Charlie Rose:

Right.

President George W. Bush:

The United States can’t say we will withhold aid, because we don’t have any aid.

Charlie Rose:

But the Chinese can.

President George W. Bush:

But the Chinese can, or the South Koreans can, and I want to thank my friend President Roh for being so stalwart in the run-ups to these discussions by saying that « There’s a $300 million aid package that won’t be forthcoming until such time as we see you, the North Korean leader, honor the agreements that they had made with, not just the United States, but five other parties. »

Charlie Rose:

My impression is that the Secretary of State will say to the Iranians, « We have no interest in — necessarily in changing the regime. We want to change the regime’s behavior. »

President George W. Bush:

The Secretary will say that we have no beef with the Iranian people. We respect Iran, we respect tradition — the traditions and the history of Iran, we think Iran and the people of Iran can be a great nation, but the government has made — you have made very difficult decisions on behalf of your people. You’ve decided you’re going to have an enrichment program, and the world has asked you not to, and therefore if you expect there to be a better way forward — if you want to have relations with the United — sit down at the table with the United States and other nations, verifiably suspend your enrichment program. And so in other words, the message is, is that « You can do better [unintelligible] people. »

Charlie Rose:

It’s not a threat to change their regime.

President George W. Bush:

No. I’m sure if she’s asked, « Do you think all people ought to vote, and any candidate who wants to run for office ought to be able to run for office in Iran? » She’ll say, « Absolutely. »

Charlie Rose:

Well, they had an election, and look who got elected.

President George W. Bush:

Well, they had an election, but just remember, when they have elections, the — a group of people get to decide who’s running. They get to decide who’s on the ballot. It’s not exactly a free and open society.

Charlie Rose:

But I just want to make sure what the message will be to Iran, because they could be of great help. They want to be a power in the region. They want to say we have influence. Will you accept that?

President George W. Bush:

They have influence, but the question is, will it be good influence or bad influence?

Charlie Rose:

Bad influence is sending weapons to Iraq?

President George W. Bush:

Bad influence is the following things. One, funding groups like Hezbollah, which launched an attack on Israel, functioning democracy in the Middle East.

Charlie Rose:

Kidnapped two soldiers.

President George W. Bush:

Kidnapped two soldiers, absolutely right. Thereby — seemed to me, derailing a peace process that was beginning to move forward, thanks to Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas’ desire to work out a Palestinian state, side by side, with Israel in peace. Moving arms into Iraq is a problem for us. Spreading radical Shia in a region that doesn’t need any more radicalism, and enriching uranium, which many people believe is the first step toward having a nuclear weapon. And to me, that is a major threat to world peace, for the Iranians to end up with the capability of making — or a nuclear weapon itself.

Charlie Rose:

Do you know how close they are to having a nuclear weapon?

President George W. Bush:

If I did, I wouldn’t share it with you.

Charlie Rose:

Do you think — we found out once that Iraq was much closer than we imagined. The first time around.

President George W. Bush:

Right.

Charlie Rose:

Do you think they may be much closer than we imagined?

President George W. Bush:

We plan for the worst and hope for the best.

Charlie Rose:

All right. This is a regional meeting, and the best is that somehow you can stop them.

President George W. Bush:

Yes. Well, somehow, no. They stop themselves. That’s the best. The best is that they say, okay, we’re tired of being isolated, we’re tired of economic sanctions, we’re tired of financial sanctions. We can do better as a nation. We don’t need to have a hostile relationship with most of the world. Therefore, we will give up our enrichment program, and if we want to have nuclear power, that we will — that we will take up the United States’ and Russia’s offer, that the — those who can enrich uranium, pass on that uranium to be used in a nuclear — civilian nuclear reactor, and we’ll collect the uranium.

Charlie Rose:

Have the Chinese and the Russians been as helpful as you want them to be on the subject of Iran?

President George W. Bush:

Yes. They have.

Charlie Rose:

The Russians have done enough, as far as you’re concerned, in terms of pressuring the Iranians and offering a solution?

President George W. Bush:

Well, the best way to answer your question is to say when we’ve asked them to join with us in a — you know, UN Security Council resolution, they have voted with us. Now, there has been serious negotiation. Russia is a proud nation, and they want to make sure that they have their voice in what the resolution ends up looking like. They’ve been positive. As well as what I just said, and that is they have made it clear that if Iran wants to have civilian nuclear power, that the best way forward is for Iran to get rid of its enrichment program and to accept highly enriched uranium, good enough for a civilian nuclear power plant, from other nations, and that Russia will collect the spent fuel.

Charlie Rose:

Do you know any country, any other country on the face of the planet is urging Iran to have nuclear weapons? Is anybody?

President George W. Bush:

I don’t know. You know –

Charlie Rose:

Everybody seems united on this. It’s not a good idea. Except Iran.

President George W. Bush:

I’m sure there may be some nations that have been — yeah. There are some nations that say –

Charlie Rose:

Doesn’t matter.

President George W. Bush:

This is the right of a sovereign nation. They can have anything they want. Yeah, there are some nations saying that. But the United States will continue to say, you know, you shouldn’t have a weapon.

Charlie Rose:

And we’re prepared to keep, on the table, the possibility of an invasion of some kind to destroy your capability?

President George W. Bush:

All options are on the table. However, my assurance to the American people is that we’ll try all diplomacy, the best way to solve these problems, through diplomacy.

Charlie Rose:

If the surge doesn’t work, and we find out at the end of the summer, everybody asks — and John McCain said, there is no plan B. Is there a plan B?

President George W. Bush:

The plan B is to make plan A work, and that’s what we’re talking to David about. And you know, he’s — he’s just going to let us know where he thinks we stand at the end of the summer. You know, the problem is you start talking about plan B, that’s where everybody defaults. My attitude is, this is the best plan we could come up, with. I thought long and hard about this. I consulted with a lot of people, both Republicans and Democrats. I obviously listened to the military. And this is the best way to achieve an objective, which is an achievable objective. In my judgment. And it’s a necessary objective.

Charlie Rose:

But you have to have a strategy, that’s your responsibility to have a strategy in case this doesn’t work.

President George W. Bush:

That’s what we’re constantly planning, and constantly adjusting, and constantly making changes. That’s exactly what happened here. You know, if they’d asked me — if you would have said prior to my decision about sending in more troops, yo said, are you satisfied what’s happening in Iraq? I would have said you can put me down as one of those that say, in those endless polls, I disapprove of what’s happening in Iraq. That would have been me.

Charlie Rose:

You would have said that because you disapprove — because it did not satisfy what you expected Iraq to be?

President George W. Bush:

Absolutely.

Charlie Rose:

It wasn’t a democracy at that time.

President George W. Bush:

No, it is a democracy. This would have been in November, prior to the decision. It is a democracy, and it’s got a modern constitution, and what you’re watching is a lot of politics. You asked about Sadr, but he’s got a political party, and these people are participating –

Charlie Rose:

And there is only a political solution that will find an end to this.

President George W. Bush:

I think there’s three solutions. One would be a security, political, and economic. Three go hand in hand.

Charlie Rose:

Where are we in the economic?

President George W. Bush:

Well, you know, all the nations that have a good chance to be able to have a bright future economically, it’s Iraq. I mean, they’ve got wealth. As opposed to Afghanistan, which is poor, Iraq has a good — you know, a good kind of fundamental basis for wealth. And that’s a lot of untapped reserves. And so they’ve got a really bright future, and they’re making some progress. Their currency is relatively stable. There’s a functioning marketplace. There are small businesses that are, you know, up and running. It’s — I talked to David. He said there is a lot of activity inside Baghdad. I mean the problem we face here at home, and I face, certainly, and I’m sure other people watching TV, all you see is a car bomb. Normalcy doesn’t end up on our TV screens. I’m not suggesting it’s not violent, it is. But you also got to understand there is a lot of normal activity taking place, and the Iraqis are entrepreneurial people and they’ve got a good chance of taking an economy that, frankly, the central government of Saddam Hussein had ruined, and rebuilding it. And have an economy that flourishes, and hopefully diversifies beyond its oil, but oil provides a good start.

Charlie Rose:

Can you imagine a circumstance in which you would have to say, we did our best. Good men and good women sacrificed their life, but we can’t, in the end, do what we want to do and we have to leave?

President George W. Bush:

No. I can’t imagine that, because I believe that with time, this Iraqi government is going to be able to reconcile and move forward. It’s not going to be a pretty picture. Of course our government wasn’t so pretty in its early stages either. And — but I believe that — I believe this can work. I do.

Charlie Rose:

Let me talk — do I have time to ask about the political element in Washington?

President George W. Bush:

Do it.

Charlie Rose:

I can keep going?

President George W. Bush:

Is this a two-hour show?

Charlie Rose:

Exactly. [laughs] It is, thank you. General Petraeus, as you mentioned, there is a Baghdad clock, and there is a Washington clock. Tell me where you think the Washington clock is, because as you know, there is legislation making its way through that would set some kind of funding resolution, but also some kind of date.

President George W. Bush:

A date certain to withdraw, one I’m evidently going to bring to my desk. I’m sorry they’re sending this to my desk, because I made it very clear to them that I think a — you know, sending a bill to the president that would say you’re going to get out of Iraq — start getting out of Iraq by a date certain, even before we’ve got all the troops sent, sends a, you know, a terrible signal, in my judgment, to friend and foe alike. But I’ll veto the bill.

Charlie Rose:

Go ahead. There’s a veto, and then what happens.

President George W. Bush:

Well, then we sit down with Congress and reach out to Republicans and Democrats and say, okay, let’s work together. You set a document up which I would label a political document. The Congress knew I wasn’t going to accept this. Here’s the problem. You set a date certain of withdrawal. What does it tell the enemy? What does it tell the Iraqi government? What does it tell people who say, I am unwilling to take a risk, to, you know, to help develop a civil society if America is going to pull out? What does it say to somebody who says well, I may want to make sure I keep my Jaish al-Mahdi option open. What does it say to some kid over there who, you know, is fighting for what he thinks is the security of the country?

Charlie Rose:

The problem with setting a date certain is the impact it has on a morale in Baghdad, more than it is somehow the Congress, in your judgment, usurping the role of the Commander-in-Chief?

President George W. Bush:

Both. But absolutely the former bothers me more than anything.

Charlie Rose:

Is there much evidence of that, though, I mean, that in fact, if there is a date certain, what’s the proof that it will have that impact?

President George W. Bush:

Just logic. I mean, you say we start moving troops out, don’t you think an enemy is going to wait and adjust based upon an announced timetable of withdrawal?

Charlie Rose:

But at some time we’re going to have to do that, aren’t we? We’re not — we can’t — it’s not an endless commitment. At some time troops are going to come out.

President George W. Bush:

Yeah. And that is based upon conditions on the ground. This resolution is based upon –

Charlie Rose:

Date certain.

President George W. Bush:

– what these people in Washington want, and that’s the difference. I think we ought to rely upon commanders. I think we ought to rely upon diplomats who are actually in Iraq, saying, okay, now the conditions justify a certain decision. As opposed to politicians in Washington DC saying, date certain you’re gone. And it puts our kids in a terrible position, and our troops in a terrible position. So I’ll veto the bill and then we’ll sit down with Republicans and Democrats and see if we can’t find something we can live with.

Charlie Rose:

And what might that be?

President George W. Bush:

Well, let them get the bill to me first. Let me veto the thing and then I’ll check back in with you. But what it — I don’t know. I’m interested to hear what they say. The last meeting I had, we really kind of didn’t get down to what everybody could live with discussion. We had a good discussion, but they made their position clear and I made mine clear, and I said, « Well, hurry up and get the bill to me so I can get it vetoed so we can get this — get it done and get this money to the troops. » And what I won’t accept is, you know, the artificial timetables of withdrawal. I will not accept micromanaging generals’ decisions, and that’s what in the bill. And I don’t think it makes sense to send a lot of extraneous domestic spending on a bill that’s aimed to help our troops. There are peanut storage. I don’t know if it’s still in there or not. But I know in the first round they actually had, you know, as part of this emergency war funding bill, they said, let’s spend money on peanut storage. And why? Because they are tribal to cobble votes together or somebody saw a good opportunity to put a little money in there for a special project. These may be worthwhile projects but they ought not to be sticking them onto this bill aimed at getting money to our troops. And the more they delay, the more it’s going to hurt the troops.

Charlie Rose:

What do you hope to leave in Iraq for the next president?

President George W. Bush:

I hope to leave a situation that is stable enough so that this government can move forward with reconciliation. And the security situation is such that we can have far fewer troops there.

Charlie Rose:

But some troops will be there when you leave office?

President George W. Bush:

Well, I think it’s realistic to think that. Listen, just to share some — where I was a year ago.

Charlie Rose:

Right.

President George W. Bush:

I thought we are going to be announcing a fairly significant troop draw down last January of ‘06, and then the sectarians, they bombed the mosque and then, of course, the sectarian violence got out of control in Baghdad in the summer, and just had to decided whether I want to let it go on and or hope it burned out like some good people in Congress think would happen, or whether chaos would reign.

Charlie Rose:

Did you think at that time you were playing your last, best card?

President George W. Bush:

Depends on conditions on the ground.

Charlie Rose:

It depends on what the Iraqis do and whether they can come to some kind of political solution?

President George W. Bush:

Yes. And they have come — remember there is a political track that is taking place. After all, they had — did approve a modern constitution, and they did elect a government, and this government has now got to perform. But you asked me about, you know, what I thought would be left behind. I hope there is a stable enough country so that the Iraqi people gain more confidence in their government, and it’s entirely possible. It’s not possible if we pull out of there. You know, an interesting report came out, as you recall, the Jimmy Baker or James A. Baker, Lee Hamilton report, and I supported a lot of that report, but we couldn’t get to Baker Hamilton, which is embedding our troops –

Charlie Rose:

What did you support?

President George W. Bush:

Well, embedding the troops.

Charlie Rose:

Right.

President George W. Bush:

Training the troops. Over the horizon presence, in other words, if there is a problem, be in a position where you can come in and help. Chasing down the al-Qaeda and extremists, particularly those from other foreign countries. Helping the territorial integrity of Iraq. That was all nice sounding and something I’m for, and it would require less troops over time to be in that position. However, I didn’t think we could get the Baker Hamilton because of the impending chaos inside Baghdad and if you look at Baker-Hamilton carefully, there is a moment in that report that says, « Well, it may be that the US government has to commit additional troops in order to get to the strategy that we’ve now proposed. » And — and so hopefully we can, you know, be in that position when the next person comes to be the president.

Charlie Rose:

Baker, Shultz, two former Secretaries of State.

President George W. Bush:

Right.

Charlie Rose:

Kissinger, another former Secretary of State, are they saying to you the same thing? I mean, you say you’re listening to these people, they come into to talk to you.

President George W. Bush:

Sure.

Charlie Rose:

Is there unanimity about what they say you ought to do?

President George W. Bush:

Well, I think these three big thinkers understand what failure would mean in Iraq. In other words, they see consequences beyond the Iraqi borders if there’s failure.

Charlie Rose:

Meaning?

President George W. Bush:

Well, meaning that, one, there’s an extremist element that would be emboldened, would say, « The United States is, after all, as soft as we thought they were, »

Charlie Rose:

A paper tiger.

President George W. Bush:

 » — can’t keep commitments. » I think you’d find — I don’t want to put words in their mouths, let me just kind of speak generally.

Charlie Rose:

Okay.

President George W. Bush:

Countries might start looking for other nations, like China for example, as a — a strategic partner if they thought the United States was unreliable. I know there’s big concern in the Middle East that if Iraq fails, Iran will feel emboldened, and there’s a lot of folks nervous about the so-called Shia Crescent in the Middle East. There’s just deep — there’s strategic concern about what a — you know, what a — what it would mean to allow this country to fall into chaos, and I share it.

Charlie Rose:

There’s no question — there’s no question on their part, and on your part, that catastrophe worse than it is today is inevitable if there’s not a political solution, and if the United States pulls back in the near term.

President George W. Bush:

Well, first of all you said this is a catastrophe worse today. I — you know, it is –

Charlie Rose:

The sectarian violence that is of a certain level.

President George W. Bush:

But it’s — it’s significantly lower than it was a couple of months ago.

Charlie Rose:

And is there an acceptable level of violence?

President George W. Bush:

Well, that’s the — that’s the question to the Iraqi people. That’s a fascinating question.

Charlie Rose:

Yeah.

President George W. Bush:

I mean, there is an acceptable level of violence in certain societies around the world, and the question is, you know, what is that level? And that’s where the experts come in. I — you know, you and I can’t determine that sitting here in New York, but we can — we can ask people’s advice upon that; David Petraeus would have an option on that. Ryan Crocker, our ambassador in Iraq. But it’s a very interesting way of putting the question, and — because all — there is an acceptable level of violence in all societies, even our own.

Charlie Rose:

And where do you –

President George W. Bush:

Even though all violence is to be abhorred, nevertheless, there is — you know, there’s certain violence — levels of violence that people say, « Well gosh, I can go about my life, I’ve got [unintelligible]« 

Charlie Rose:

We can’t create zero violence, is that you are saying.

President George W. Bush:

Well — and by the way, if the standard of success is no car bombings or suicide bombings, we have just handed those who commit suicide bombings a huge victory. In other words, if you say, you know, « I’m going to judge the administration’s plan based upon whether they were able to have no car bombings in Baghdad, » we will have just given — because car bombings are hard to stop — or suicide bombings — very hard to stop. We have just given al-Qaeda or any other extremist a significant victory. And that’s one of the problems I face in trying to convince the American people, one, this is doable — in other words, I wouldn’t have our troops there if I didn’t think this is, one, important, and secondly, achievable. But I also understand on their TV screens, people are seeing horrific bombings, and they’re saying to themselves, « Is this possible? Can we possibly succeed in the face of this kind of violence? » And that’s where this enemy — the enemy of moderation has got a — you know, they’ve got a — they’ve got a powerful tool in [unintelligible]

Charlie Rose:

Have we been able to make common cause with moderate Muslims and moderate Islam in order — in the larger battle against terrorism?

President George W. Bush:

I think — yeah, absolutely. And the common cause is, is that — that we both reject extremists and radicals. The fundamental question is, will there be forms of government over time that enable the moderates to — to be able to — you know, be an active part of government, that they’ve got a stake in the future of their country. See, on 9/11, I vowed that we would do everything we could to protect the country, and you’ve just go to know, Charlie, that 9/11 affected me deeply, and my decision making was affected by the — the realization that the United States is at war with a — a group of extremists who have an ideology, and they’re willing to strike us. So the question is, « What do you do to solve — what do you — how do you solve that problem? » You’re confronted with a problem of a potential — another attack on America, what do you do? Well, on one hand you chase them down as best as you can. You keep the pressure, constant pressure on al-Qaeda cells or constant pressure on extremists, and you do not let them have safe haven. Deny them safe haven. In the long run, however, there has to be an alternative form of government to their vision of government in order to, you know, provide hope for people. And that form is democracy.

Charlie Rose:

That’s what your 2004 State of the Union.

President George W. Bush:

Yeah. No. That, but also that the swearing in, 2005 swearing in.

Charlie Rose:

Right. Right.

President George W. Bush:

Called inauguration.

Charlie Rose:

[laughter] Okay. I’m sorry. You’re absolutely right, obviously. It was your inaugural speech. There is also this. America has lost prestige, credibility, reputation around the world because of this? B, it’s shown us it is, it is argued, limits of our power, and C, we can’t do things that we might otherwise do, for example, Darfur, because we’re in Iraq, and because we invaded a Muslim country. Do you, when you hear that, agree or not?

President George W. Bush:

I disagree. I think that — I think if you go by a poll, you know, you support Bush’s decision on Iraq or are you happy with America’s role in the world? You know, you may get the impression that people don’t like it. On the other hand, if you say to people, of all the countries in the world, where would you like to, you know, go? Where would you like to raise your children? Where would you like to live? I think you’re going to find a lot of people still have that great love of America. Now, will I concede that people may not like the decisions I have made? I understand that. But I’m the kind of fellow, though, that I think it’s better to do what you think is right than try to make yourself popular. Secondly, I fully believe that the United States needs to use its influence in a lot of ways to help make this world a better place. I happen to believe liberating 50 million people, as well as protecting the United States, is a positive contribution to the world.

Charlie Rose:

Do you believe the world believes that?

President George W. Bush:

Some do, some don’t. I tell you who does believe it, are those who have been liberated. And history has a long reach to it. It takes a while for the history of a period to finally be defined. I’ll tell you what the world does appreciate, though, is when the United States sends a USS Abraham Lincoln to help those people affected by the tsunami.

Charlie Rose:

They certainly did, and they said that was a shining moment for the United States.

President George W. Bush:

They also –

Charlie Rose:

And it gave us an opportunity to increase our –

President George W. Bush:

Well, we sent choppers into Pakistan for the earthquake. We didn’t wait for people to sit around a conference table saying what do you want to do? We did. I said send them in. Let’s get the help there. I’ll tell you what they liked. They liked the fact that the United States leads on ridding the pandemic of HIV/AIDS in the continent of Africa. They like the fact that the United States is spending enormous sums of money on health and education in South, Central America. They like the fact that the United States is actively involved in opening up markets for poor countries. In other words, we’ve got a very robust foreign policy. Much of it overshadowed by the Iraq war, but it is a foreign policy that I’m confident, when people are able to look back at this moment in history, say, wow, the United States led, and worked with other nations to achieve important objectives.

Charlie Rose:

What’s the lessons of all this for you, the war in Iraq and what it means for the future? And what have you learned that you think would like to put in a note on the desk of successor?

President George W. Bush:

I’ve learned that in order to make profound decisions that affect the future of the country, you must have a set of principles that are firmly etched in your soul, that you can’t make good decisions if you chase the latest focus group or opinion poll, that you’ve got to believe a principle such as freedom is universal, and there is no kind of moral relativity when it comes to that subject, as far as I’m concerned. People deserve and desire to be free. And that history has taught us democracies don’t war, so forms of government matter in terms of finding peace. But you have to believe principles in order to put up with all the noise, all the pressure, all the flattery and criticism that happens in Washington DC. That’s one of the primary lessons I’ve learned as the president.

Charlie Rose:

I would have assumed that was deep inside of you, based on your reading and based on faith and based on –

President George W. Bush:

Absolutely. It is. It is. And you can’t — you can’t — the temptation is for people to say, well, I’m going to compromise my principles in order to be the popular person. But popularity is fleeting. I mean it just kind of goes up in the air.

Charlie Rose:

History will judge is to whether you were right or wrong.

President George W. Bush:

That’s right. That’s exactly right.

Charlie Rose:

Bold strokes, you’re a guy that believes in risk, innovation, change, and making and taking bold strokes? Is there one left, in your presidency?

President George W. Bush:

Immigration bill. I believe that this country needs a comprehensive immigration bill that enforces law and treats people with respect. Plus I’m trying to get Congress to pass the last bold stroke I laid out there which was to reduce gasoline consumption by 20 percent over the next ten years by a mandatory fuel standard that says we’ll be using 35 billion gallons of ethanol and/or other alternative fuels.

Charlie Rose:

And social security reform.

President George W. Bush:

Yeah. That’s going to be hard. I wish we could get it done. I’m not sure it’s going to happen. I tried, as you might recall in ‘95 — I mean in 2005, and, you know, I just don’t think — I’ll keep pushing, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. A little defeatist. I don’t see it happening yet, a better way to put it.

Charlie Rose:

The Congress tomorrow, the Senate said today that they’re going vote no confidence, have no conference vote on the Attorney General who will be front person on some of the immigration stuff.

President George W. Bush:

Yeah. He’s a good man to be the front person on immigration stuff, after all –

Charlie Rose:

What about a vote of no confidence?

President George W. Bush:

Well, I haven’t seen that yet. Your news is fresher than mine. Look. Al Gonzales is a guy who went up to Congress testified for hours on end about the US attorney issue. First, we can remove you US attorneys. They serve at the pleasure of the president. I named them. Attorneys that served for four years, and we thought we wanted to replace them. Could it have been explained better? Evidently. I mean not only evidently, yeah. Al could have done a better job and his department could have done a better job of just explaining why we did what we did. Instead we got this kind of hearings and testimonies based upon something that was perfectly legal. So my attitude, Al did nothing wrong.

Charlie Rose:

Why don’t those Republican Senators who are saying he’s ineffective get that?

President George W. Bush:

Yeah. You know, there is just a lot of opinions in Washington DC. I’ve got confidence in Al, and you mention he’d be one of the people out front on the immigration bill, and he should. You know, his daddy came over here from Mexico and worked hard all his life and became a citizen, and raised his son along with other children, and here’s Al Gonzales. He’s been a Supreme Court judge in Texas, Attorney General of the United States, and, you know, Al’s a good, decent man, and he’s caught up in Washington right now. And that’s what happens in that town a lot. There is a lot of politics. You know, a lot of people have got strong opinions. Al is in the middle of it.

Charlie Rose:

And so are you, and so is the Congress. I thank you for taking this time. It was a pleasure having you on this program.

President George W. Bush:

Thank you, Charlie. I enjoyed it.

Charlie Rose:

So did I.

Copyright © 2007 The International Herald Tribune | www.iht.com

Shirley Loral 26/4/2007

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